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Revenue Cap Reality Sets In

Schools open to pain of cuts in staff, programs

School district revenue controls – now in their sixth year – are forcing school districts to make the type of serious budget cuts that are catching the attention of parents and citizens.

The news media are reporting more frequently on the devastating impact of revenue controls as budget cuts become high-profile news in communities throughout the state and their impact begins to hit home with concerned and sometimes angry parents. In recent weeks, newspaper reports have chronicled many cases of communities struggling with the impact of revenue controls. A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel identified these cases:

  • The Northland Pines School Board in Eagle River voted to eliminate all after-school activities, including football, boys and girls basketball and cheerleading. It later reinstated high school interscholastic sports, but did not restore middle school interscholastics. After eliminating, then restoring, a variety of staff positions, it ended up cutting several positions.
  • Waupun opened two elementary schools this fall without principals. When the principal of those schools left the district, the position was not filled. Instead, two principals from other schools were assigned to also oversee them.
  • The Sturgeon Bay School District cut its textbook and classroom supplies budget 15% in 1996-97 and another 10% in 1997-98.
  • The Greendale School District laid off seven teachers, two librarians, a principal, clerical aides and all lunchroom monitors.
  • When the art and music teachers recently left the Antigo School District, the district decided it could not afford to replace them, so it instructed classroom teachers to integrate art and music into their curriculums.
  • Laona School District Administrator Storm Carroll gave up his 1.7% pay raise last year so the district could use the money to buy textbooks. “The kids needed the books,” he said. “That was the only way we could buy them.”

The La Crosse Tribune published a pair of articles in July on the impact of revenue controls. Among the cases it cited:

  • The Cashton School District needs a curriculum director and a technology coordinator but can only fill those positions if it makes cuts elsewhere in staffing.
  • The La Farge School District is falling behind in maintenance and repairs, and voters have rejected a $2.8 million building and maintenance referendum. For example, a bus garage needs a new floor, a leaky roof needs repair, some asbestos needs to be removed, and a couple of 1950s boilers need to be replaced.
  • The De Soto School District – which Superintendent Charles Oberstar says is the only district in the state with a negative balance – has cut several positions including a custodian and two secretaries and is not able to fill a middle school principal position. It also has buildings badly in need of repair.

The Wausau Daily Herald contacted area school districts and concluded: “From large school districts like Stevens Point Area Public Schools to small ones like Spencer, state-mandated revenue caps – partly determined by district enrollment – are taking their toll on budgets.”

  • Stevens Point is facing $780,000 in cuts for 1999-2000 and a potential shortfall of $1.3 million the following year. Superintendent Emery Babcock said some retiring teachers might not be replaced, additional guidance counselors will not be hired, and the number of educational assistants might drop by 10%. “We’re going to have to look at higher class sizes, limiting the number of classes kids can take, going from eight periods to seven,” Babcock said.
  • The Spencer School District is projecting a $200,000 shortfall this year on top of a $150,000 shortfall last year, even after passage of a $250,000 referendum to exceed revenue caps each year. “It just keeps multiplying with the revenue caps,” said Superintendent Larry Stordahl. “This is a serious problem that’s only just beginning to make itself felt.” Among the cuts the district has made or is considering are cutting maintenance, not replacing teachers, eliminating field trips, switching to a private contractor for custodial service, and reducing supplies by 30%.

A Wisconsin State Journal article focused on how revenue controls have forced districts to increase student fees. “Charging fees is one way districts can raise additional revenue outside of revenue caps,” said Tom Wohlleber, Middleton’s assistant superintendent for business. The article broke down the impact of higher fees on students in Middleton:

  • A 6th-grade student must pay a total of $147 in fees to participate in art, band, the required industrial technology and consumer education classes, one sport and one club.
  • A high school student with similar interests must pay $376 in fees, plus $75 for advanced placement tests. This fall, student drivers must pay an additional $25 to cover the $150 driver education fee.

In another report, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examined how school districts are struggling with the issue of hiring or keeping school counselors in the wake of the Columbine school shootings in Colorado.

  • The New Berlin School District cut all but one of the 3.5 elementary guidance counselors and cut one of the district’s three psychologists. “If we had the money, we would prefer not to cut these things,” said Superintendent Jim Benfield.
  • The West Allis-West Milwaukee School District is cutting its only elementary guidance counselor.
  • The Mequon-Thiensville School District scrapped a proposal to increase from five to six the number of high school guidance counselors.

Posted August 27, 1999


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